Silly Putty Bible Study

Silly Putty Bible Study

Only when we are properly informed by God’s Word the way it was written—in its context—can we be transformed by it. Every piece becomes powerful when it is working together according to the Spirit’s design. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Used properly, it parries deception and pierces the heart. It protects us from error. A sword made of putty, though, has no power. It pierces nothing. It offers no protection. And it has no place in the arsenal of a Christian.

21st-century kids have cell phones, YouTube, and Xboxes. When I was a kid, we had simpler delights. One was a handful of malleable goo that could be pulled, twisted, or distorted into any shape imaginable. It was called Silly Putty®.

Sadly, many Christians use their Bibles like Silly Putty®. Just add the Spirit, and the Bible becomes putty in their hands, able to be molded into almost anything at all. Rather than approaching the Scripture as a treasure of truth for all Christians, some evangelicals have the dangerous habit of searching the text for a personal “promise” or “word” of guidance from the Spirit that is unrelated to the text’s original meaning.

Often, the results turn out to be silly. Other times, they are dangerous. Regardless of the outcome, this practice is always a bad habit. Here’s how it often looks.

The Holy Spirit Give-Away

Instead of studying to find the objective meaning of a passage and then making personal application of that scriptural truth to their lives, many Christians read the Bible looking for verses or isolated phrases the Spirit “impresses” on them with personal messages that are foreign to the context.

For example, a Christian woman who has been praying for her family’s conversion stumbles upon Acts 16 during her quiet time. Her eyes settle on Paul’s response to the Philippian jailer, who asked, “What must I do to be saved?” “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” Paul answered, then added, “you and your household” (vv. 29–31).

Encouraged by these words, the woman begins to claim the “promise” that her own household will be saved, with the justification that “the Holy Spirit gave me this verse.”

Why would she use that particular wording to describe what she experienced? Because in the normal, natural understanding of that passage, the verse wasn’t “hers” to begin with.[1]

Rather, she believes that, under the Spirit’s influence, there was a mystical transformation that took place causing the meanings of the words to change just for her, conveying a private message not intended by the original author (Luke, in this case) and not intended for anyone else. It was a private message from God just for her incorporating the words of the biblical text, but not previously in those words.

Notice, her confidence is not based on the objective meaning of the passage but on the unique subjective meaning given to her by the Spirit in the moment. I—or any other Christian, for that matter—could not claim that verse for myself unless the Holy Spirit “gave” the verse to me, as well.

Experiences like these are powerful because they seem intensely personal. But there’s a problem: Acts 16:31 is not her promise. It’s the Philippian jailer’s promise, if a promise at all.[2] Using the passage as she has done is an abuse of God’s Word. It’s also deeply relativistic.

Relativism is the defining characteristic of the age and has influenced the church in subtle yet profound ways. When an objective claim (a verse) communicates completely different meanings (“truths”) to different subjects (people), that’s relativism. Since truth is not in the objective meaning of the words but in the personal, subjective experience of the reader—in this case, an experience allegedly caused by the Holy Spirit—a personal prompting can be “true for me but not for you.” Since there are different experiences for different people, there are different “truths” for each.

Let me speak plainly: There is no biblical justification for finding private, personal messages in texts originally intended by God to mean something else. This approach is the wrong way to read the Bible. One reason I know this is because of what the Bible teaches about itself.

The Bible on Bible Study

First, the Bible teaches that the written words of Scripture are inspired.

“All Scripture [graphe, Gr.—the “writing”] is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). The wording here is important. Paul says that the writing itself is “God-breathed,” not the thoughts, impressions, or private messages that occur to us when we read the writing.

God told Moses to speak to Pharaoh the specific words of God: “I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say” (Exodus 4:12). “Let them hear My words,” God said later at Horeb, “so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth” (Deuteronomy 4:10). These are the “living words” that Stephen said have been passed on to us (Acts 7:38).

God told Jeremiah, “Write all the words which I have spoken to you in a book” (Jeremiah 30:2). He said to Isaiah, “My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring” (Isaiah 59:21).

God has always been concerned with the words because precise words are necessary to convey precise meaning. That’s why Paul confidently refers to God’s revelation not as words of human wisdom, but as “words…taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13).

Second, the Bible teaches it is important to accurately understand these inspired words of Scripture.

Note Jesus in Luke 10:25–28:

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly.”

Jesus did not ask, “What does the Spirit say to you on this issue?” He asked, “What is written? How does it read?” Then he waited to see if the lawyer got it right.

There is a correct and incorrect way to read the Bible. Paul tells Timothy to handle the Word accurately to avoid bringing shame on himself (2 Timothy 2:15). Jesus scolded the Pharisees for not understanding the Scripture properly. He then made an argument for the resurrection that hinged on the tense of a word: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:29–32).

Third, the Bible teaches that private interpretations do not yield the accurate meaning.

Peter is clear on this point. He writes:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation; for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20–21)

Because there is a divine author behind prophecy, the apostle argues, there is a particular truth—a determinate meaning—that God intends to convey.

Read More

Scroll to top